Thursday, July 07, 2005

My House Is Bigger Than Your House

There is a well-known stereotype that Jews are only concerned about money. While we know that this is a common refrain of anti-Semites, a stereotype must have some kernel of truth for it to be perpetuated.

The anti-Semite hates Jews because he is jealous of them. But by flaunting his wealth, the Jew calls attention to himself and thereby increases the jealousy and the hatred of him.

The Biala Rebbe devoted an entire chapter of his sefer to the dangers of flaunting one's wealth. In the chapter, Let Their Homes Not Become Their Graves, the Biala Rebbe wrote:

"The home that is to be blessed with Hashem's good graces must be built upon the pillars of humility and tznius. If, G-d forbid, we make our homes ostentatious, in an attempt to attract envy and attention, this brings about all the tragedies and misfortunes that befall the Jewish people in exile."

Rabbi Yissocher Frand also addressed this issue at length in Dealing With Affluence, or, What's Wrong With a $2 Million Birthday Party and observed:

"..when we flaunt our money, we leave ourselves open to the ayin hara (the Evil Eye). If you become the talk of the community, inevitably that is going to cause a great deal of jealousy. That, in turn, causes you to be judged more strictly in Heaven. If people are jealous of you, the Heavenly tribunal starts appraising you in a different light above, and the question that they will be asking is: Does he really deserve that money? Is he using it for the purposes for which it was 'loaned' to him? How many of us can withstand that kind of scrutiny? If we can't, we shouldn't make a show of wealth."

From the above two teachings it is abundantly clear that when a Jew makes an ostentatious show of his wealth in Golus, he is playing with fire.

It is proper to understand and consider that which is surplus and superfluous, in order to cast it aside and not pursue luxuries, but be satisfied with what one has.

(Degel Machaneh Ephraim)


At July 8, 2005 at 3:41:00 PM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

The Talmud in Ta'anis (I think its around daf 11) warns us about this as well. But the roots of anti-semitism are surly much deeper.

It is a very sad truth that there is a significant segment of the Jewish population that is quite materialistic, and there are many reasons for this. I also think there are many people who are not so, but children are not being given a clear value message while growing up - and that is the root of the problem.
When I was growing up, I never saw a chassidishe person in our community with a matching set of furniture, or even matching silverware. We thought that to own things like those was the height of materialism! How shocking it was for me when I came to visit New York at a fairly young age - the center for Orthodox Judaism - to see that the lifestyle was far more materialistic that we thought was supposed to acceptable.

I also remember once entering a small shul in Boro Park with my son (about 7 at the time), and an older Hungarian Chossid gave him a brocha:
"Zolt eihr oifvaksen zein a gevir (May you grow to be a wealthy man) ."
I was quite surprised and I asked him:
"Isn't their anything higher to aspire to?"
He replied:
"What, don't you think Jews need money?"

Well, it's really G-d's fault for leaving us in Galus for two thousand years...


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